Category Archives: Working

‘Sitting is the New Smoking:’ Recent research makes some of my colleagues stand up and take notice

Take a momentary break from stressing about saturated fat, second-hand smoke, carbohydrates, terrorism, stranger danger and lack of exercise to consider the new source of alarm: Sitting.

Going by the new research — which you can read about here, and here, and here — it really doesn’t matter how much you work out. If you sit too much the rest of the time, it’s killing you.

Consider this warning to the hyperkinetic readers of Runner’s World:

You’ve no doubt heard the news by now: A car-commuting, desk-bound, TV-watching lifestyle can be harmful to your health. All the time we spend parked behind a steering wheel, slumped over a keyboard, or kicked back in front of the tube is linked to increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even depression—to the point where experts have labeled this modern-day health epidemic the “sitting disease.”

But wait, you’re a runner. You needn’t worry about the harms of sedentary living because you’re active, right? Well, not so fast. A growing body of research shows that people who spend many hours of the day glued to a seat die at an earlier age than those who sit less—even if those sitters exercise.

“Up until very recently, if you exercised for 60 minutes or more a day, you were considered physically active, case closed,” says Travis Saunders, a Ph.D. student and certified exercise physiologist at the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. “Now a consistent body of emerging research suggests it is entirely possible to meet current physical activity guidelines while still being incredibly sedentary, and that sitting increases your risk of death and disease, even if you are getting plenty of physical activity. It’s a bit like smoking. Smoking is bad for you even if you get lots of exercise. So is sitting too much.”

Unfortunately, outside of regularly scheduled exercise sessions, active people sit just as much as their couch-potato peers…

The denizens of ADCO — some of them, at any rate — have taken this to heart (and lung, and brain, and all the other organs allegedly affected by excessive sitting), and have started standing at their desks to work.

Meanwhile, others among us are both sitting and eating potato chips while writing this blog post. Literally.

We’ll report on the results of this internal study, if we’re still around when the data are in…

ADCO's Nancy Atkinson stands at her desk, oblivious to the fact that this blog's format lends itself better to HORIZONTAL images.

ADCO’s Nancy Atkinson stands at her desk, oblivious to the fact that this blog works better with HORIZONTAL images.

The attack on Sheheen, which is really an attack on lawyers

When I went to look at the Washington Post video explaining how someone becomes a Saint, I first had to listen to the anti-Sheheen attack ad (because, I suppose, The Washington Post hates me).

Which, of course, is an anti-lawyer ad. If you are a small-town lawyer, as Vincent Sheheen is, a malicious person should find it pretty easy to find such cases to use in blackening your name.

Since it was a slam at lawyers in general, our own Bryan Caskey — whom no one would mistake for a Democrat, I think — received this appeal:

Dear Bryan,

I am proud to be a member of South Carolina’s legal profession, trained and sworn to uphold the law, protect the rights laid out in our Constitution, and fight for justice.

Like you, I swore that, “I will assist the defenseless or oppressed by ensuring that justice is available to all citizens and will not delay any person’s cause for profit or malice.”

You may have seen recently that Nikki Haley and her allies, the attorney-dominated Republican Governors Association Executive Committee, launched a vicious and deceptive attack on me, and by association you and every lawyer in South Carolina and across the country.  The RGA is spending millions of dollars bashing any attorney who has ever represented a client accused of a crime.

Do they have so little regard for our Constitution and our values that they would stoop this low just so Haley can continue to occupy the Governor’s Mansion? Sadly, the answer is yes.

Freedom, justice, and equal protection under the law are not Republican or Democratic values – they are American values, and they are the values we as attorneys are sworn to uphold.  Every American, including Nikki Haley, has a right to a legal defense.

Now is the time to stand strong and fight back!  Help me fight against this vicious slander of the legal profession and assault on the Bill of Rights.  Haley and her allies are gambling that we will have neither the funds nor the will to stand against this shameless assault.

If you can, send a contribution of $1000, $500, $250 or whatever you are able to send today.  It will help us get our message out to protect the truth, to defend our profession, and to draw a line in the sand against attacks like these.

If we do not stand up to these despicable attacks now, we will have no right to complain when the next such attack surfaces.  And the next.  And the next.  And we know they are coming.

Please stand with me and send in what you can today to help us fight back against the extremists whose only tools are lies, fear and intimidation!

Thank you.

Vincent

For his part, says Bryan, “I’m sympathetic, but I have a rule against giving politicians money: it only encourages them.”

Mrs. Landingham, we hardly knew ye


The West Wing by Habzapl

Wow. Last night, I watched the Season Two finale of “The West Wing” not once, but twice. It was one of the best episodes of any TV show that I’ve ever seen.

Just thinking about Mrs. Landingham telling Jed, for the second time in their long association, that if he didn’t want to proceed because he didn’t think it was right, fine, she could respect that, but if he didn’t try because it would be too hard, “Well, God, Jed, I don’t even want to know you”… well, I get goose bumps right now, just typing it.

On a previous thread, we were talking, in the context of the military, about what it means to live for a purpose greater than yourself. Well, this TV show is getting to me, and it’s on that level.

I’ve been watching this show nightly while working out, and loving it. (I never saw it when it was on the air.) It’s probably not good for my mental health, though, because I’ve become so very jealous of those characters and what they have together. I don’t always agree with the things they’re trying to do, but that’s beside the point. The fact is that they get to do it as part of a group of people just as committed to serving their causes as they are. And what they do actually has an effect on the world around them.

I mentioned that Ainsley, the young Republican lawyer who joins the staff, is possibly my favorite character (my second favorite may be Toby, although I really like Leo, too). She disagrees with this bunch of Democrats even more than I do, and is a wonderful foil for them. But she, too, is a member of the group; she feels the sense of mission perhaps more purely than they do — because she is there solely in order to serve her country, rather than the president’s party or anything like that.

It’s no accident that the episode I saw last night uses Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” to such effect. That’s the appeal of the show. These people are all brothers in arms, in a cause greater than themselves.

The show creates in me a longing. I couldn’t serve in the military for medical reasons. I’ll never be a senior adviser in the White House because, Ainsley aside, you not only have to be a partisan, but a professional partisan, to get there these days.

But I know there are people in this world who have something like what those characters have, and I’m deeply envious.

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Hey, State paper! I took that picture!

Campbell

I called up this story over at thestate.com, about how Mike Campbell is going to run for lieutenant governor (again), and Henry McMaster might, too.

Imagine my surprise to see a photo I shot of Campbell years ago — during his last run for the same office.

It was taken in the board room, and with the little Canon camera I used to use. It had a tilting viewscreen, so that I could hold it down on the table, unobstrusively, and glance down at the screen to aim and focus the shot. You can see me doing it in this photo of me with Barack Obama.

I miss that little camera, which quit working after a photo session with the twins in the surf at the beach. I haven’t been able to find another in that price range with the handy tilting window, which allowed for candids I couldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Not sure how The State had that picture, since I always kept the photos on my laptop. I must have used it in a print edition one time. (Normally, my photos only appeared on my blog, as did this one.)

Anyway, it looks like my contributions to the paper continue, despite my absence…

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SC Democrats keep having to import talent from outside

Or at least, they keep doing it, whether they need to or not.

First, a bit of news you may have already heard about someone we know — Amanda Alpert Loveday, who was the executive director of the state party, but who sent out contact info today for her new gig:

I am writing you today to say hello from the office of Congressman Jim Clyburn.  As most of you know, I have made the transition to the Congressman’s office but wanted to send you all my new contact information. …

I look forward to hitting the ground running for Congressman Clyburn and if you need anything from the office or the Congressman, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

In light of what I posted earlier today, it sounds like Amanda’s making a good move, in terms of job longevity. So we are happy for her.

I’m somewhat bemused that her replacement is from out of state — a Floridian, name of Conor Hurley.

Nothing against Mr. Hurley personally; I’m sure he’ll be a fine addition to South Carolina. But the fact that he is from out of state is another illustration of a phenomenon I’ve been seeing in Democratic Party lately — the pros who get hired to run campaigns, or to run the party, tend not to be home-grown.

I’ve been concerned lately that the current Vincent Sheheen campaign has a generic, national-Democrat sort of feel to it. One of Sen. Sheheen’s greatest strengths is that his political roots in the state are about as deep as you’re likely to find among currently active Democrats, and his understanding of problems that are peculiarly South Carolinians is exemplary. In 2010, that showed, and I think it had something to do with why he did so well against Nikki Haley, in spite of that being the Year of the Tea Party, and Nikki being their chosen darling.

This time, so far, I’m seeing a campaign that feels more generic, and national. And for a Democrat in South Carolina, the modifier “national” is the kiss of death.

I don’t want to lay this entirely at the feet of his out-of-stater campaign manager, Andrew Whalen. After all, the 2010 campaign manager was brought in from out of state as well. But there’s something that has kept this campaign from feeling like it’s about South Carolina. (And you’re not going to get that homegrown feel from the incumbent, whose idea of the way to run against any Democrat is to say, “Obama! Obama! Obama!”)

Once, a job like party executive director was a nice stepping stone for a young South Carolinian coming up in the party. It still is that over in the GOP, which has hordes of young up-and-comers competing to enter politics like the Three Stooges all trying to crowd through a narrow doorway at the same time.

I was reminded of this just the other day. I was in Aiken for an event at which the SC Center for Fathers and Families was introducing itself to the community (it’s opening a new program there), and a guy I hadn’t seen in a long time came up and reintroduced himself: “Chris Verenes.” It took a moment or so for my brain’s software to locate him in the archives, but I came up with the right answer: Chris was E.D. of the Democratic Party back when I started as Governmental Affairs Editor of The State, in 1987.

Now, he’s president of Security Federal Bank in Aiken.

I was recently reminded of another young Democrat from those days — the one who ran Mike Dukakis’ campaign here in SC. His name was Det Bowers. He’s now running for the U.S. Senate — as a Republican.

I don’t know where the next generation of Democrats is coming from in SC, if there’s going to be one. But when it comes to Democrats willing to turn pro and run campaigns… well, they’re already pretty thin on the ground, it seems.

Tonight on ‘Fresh Air,’ Brigid talks about her new book

Remember a couple of months back, when I told you about the new book by my friend and colleague Brigid Schulte?

Well, she’s going to be talking about it this evening at 7 on NPR’s “Fresh Air.”

That’s all. Just wanted to give a heads-up, particularly to any of y’all who remember Brigid from when she worked for The State, before her long stint at The Washington Post, where she still works when she’s not writing books…

Study sees future shortfall of college-educated in SC

This release just in:

Study Highlights Major Expected Shortfall in

South Carolina’s Future College-Educated Workforce 

– USC Economists Find S.C. Will Need Many More College-Educated Workers

by 2030 Than It Is On Pace to Provide –

Columbia, SC – March 6, 2013 – South Carolina is facing a major shortfall of skilled, college-educated workers by the year 2030 to fuel its economic growth, according to a major new study prepared by two University of South Carolina professors. The study projects that at current rates, the state will have a shortfall of more than 100,000 graduating students with the necessary post-high school education to be hired.  To put things in perspective, that shortfall is greater than the seating capacity of either Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia or Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

The study was conducted by Dr. Doug Woodward and Dr. Joey Von Nessen, top research economists in the Darla Moore School of Business. The study will guide the efforts of the Competing Through Knowledge initiative, a group of civic and business leaders seeking to enhance the state’s workforce preparedness through improved higher education.

Based on economic and demographic trends, Woodward and Von Nessen project that by 2030 South Carolina will have a shortfall of 44,010 workers holding two-year degrees and 70,540 workers who hold bachelor’s degrees or higher. This major projected deficit – if not addressed – could cast a shadow over South Carolina’s future, as the USC study notes: “The percentage of the population with a college degree is the single best predictor of a state’s national ranking in personal per capita income levels.”

“This report has to be taken as a call to action,” said Jim Morton, a retired senior executive from both the Michelin and Nissan companies and one of the civic leaders spearheading the Competing Through Knowledge effort. “If South Carolina is going to thrive as we all wish, meeting the educational needs of our growing economy has to be a top priority. Our state needs a comprehensive plan.”

The state’s need for skilled, college-educated workers by 2030 will double or almost double across the three levels of higher education cited in the report: jobs needing some post-high school work, those requiring a two-year degree or those requiring a four-year degree. This outlines a major challenge for the state’s technical colleges as well as four-year colleges and research universities.

The report also identifies several fields as likely to generate the greatest mismatches between what higher education is set to provide and what is needed, most notably the field of nursing. Nearly 40 percent of the shortfall projected in the S.C. workforce is expected in nursing; that is more than 17,000 openings for those with at least an associate’s degree in excess of what our colleges are expected to produce. Other fields that are projected to need thousands more workers than are projected include general and operations managers, schoolteachers and accountants, among others.

In the report’s conclusion, Woodward and Von Nessen write: “For South Carolina to create opportunities for its citizens to have access to good jobs and higher wages, it must create a workforce that is equipped with the skillsets that are in demand in the labor market.”

To help meet that challenge, the S.C. Business Leaders Higher Education Council launched the Competing Through Knowledge initiative. In the coming months, Competing Through Knowledge will be looking at South Carolina’s higher education system and current and future workforce needs. The group, featuring leaders from across the state and many different fields of expertise, will recommend specific on-the-ground changes in how South Carolinians are being educated.

Other states have brought a similar focus to making sure that they are doing all they can to prepare their workforce. In 2009, Virginia launched its Grow by Degrees plan, which resulted in several new initiatives to improve higher education being implemented there.

Former South Carolina Gov. David Beasley, a Competing Through Knowledge board member, said, “The Competing Through Knowledge project is about bringing business and higher education leaders to the table to identify the jobs of the future and create a strategy to make certain that South Carolina workers have the skills necessary to satisfy those jobs.”

The USC study can be accessed by following this link: competingthroughknowledge.org/assets/uploads/references/Higher_Education_Report.pdf

About Competing Through Knowledge

Competing Through Knowledge is an effort driven by business leaders to make South Carolina’s working citizens ready for the emerging economy and the state more globally competitive by 2030. It will work with higher education to assess how South Carolina, at the two-year and four-year levels, is preparing its workforce for the future. The goal is to invigorate South Carolina with the knowledge required to attract and sustain more advanced economic activity while preparing more of its citizens for broader opportunities, through the growth of better-paying industries and entrepreneurship. Learn more at www.competingthroughknowledge.org.

Do you find that a little hard to believe? Maybe it’s because my office is only about a block from the USC campus, and I often feel like I’m trying to move through an ocean of college students.

Yeah, I already knew that we weren’t churning out enough nurses. As for the rest — I see that we’re expected to fall short in “general and operations managers, schoolteachers and accountants, among others.” Except for the teachers, that sounds kind of like the folks who would have been placed on the B Ark from Golgafrincham

Hey, it’s a joke, you general and operations managers! Can’t you take a joke?

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Aboard the B Ark from Golgafrincham, with Arthur Dent…

Dang. When you’re on your own, you have to think so HARD

So this morning, I was trying to post a quick reply to something Doug had said, and I was trying to think of a word. I was trying to think of a word for considerations that exacerbate a situation (I never have trouble remembering “exacerbate,” because, you know, it sounds dirty).

When I was at the newspaper, I would have gotten up, walked next door to Cindi Scoppe’s office, and said, “I’m having trouble remembering a word that should be easy. What’s the opposite of extenuating, or mitigating, circumstances? You know, like committing the offense within the context of another crime or something.”

And she would have said, “aggravating,” and I’d nod, say “of course,” and go back and type that, assuming I didn’t get distracted on the way.

But without her and all those other people to check with, just sitting here blogging alone (is that redundant?), I had to think of it all on my own, which took several seconds.

Having to remember stuff on your own is hard

Video: Sheheen explaining his restructuring bill in 2008

I was looking for a picture of Vincent Sheheen to go with the last post, and ran across this video clip that I had forgotten.

It’s from the meeting on January 29, 2008, when he unveiled his restructuring plan to Cindi Scoppe and me, in the editorial board room at The State.

It’s short — the camera I used then would only shoot video for three minutes at a time — and there are several other clips from after this one that I did not upload.

But I share this one because in it, he shows how well he understood the actual power situation in South Carolina.

When talking about South Carolina’s unique situation as the “Legislative State” (even back in 1949, when some other Southern states had some similar such arrangements, political scientist V. O. Key called South Carolina that in his classic. Southern Politics in State and Nation), we tend to use a lazy shorthand. We say that SC lawmakers don’t want to surrender power to the governor.

That glosses over an important truth, one that we elaborated on in the Power Failure series back in 1991, but which I don’t stop often enough to explain any more: It’s that the Legislature, too, lacks the power to exert any effective control over state government. This leads to a government in which no one is in charge, and no one can be held accountable.

There was a time, long ago — pre-WWII, roughly, and maybe for awhile between then and the 1960s, which saw expansions of government programs on a number of levels — when lawmakers actually could run executive agencies, at least in a loose, informal way. On the state level, agencies answered to boards and commissions whose members were appointed by lawmakers. On the local level, they ran things more directly, calling all the shots. This was before county councils were empowered (more or less) in the mid-70s.

But as state agencies grew, they became more autonomous. Oh, they kept their heads down and didn’t anger powerful lawmakers, especially at budget time, but there was generally no effective way for legislators to affect their day-to-day operations. And while lawmakers appointed the members of boards and commissions, they lacked the power to remove them if they did something to attract legislative ire.

And on the local level, the advent of single-member districts broke up county delegations as coherent local powers. Yes, we have vestiges of that now — the Richland County elections mess is an illustration of this old system, as is the Richland recreation district and other special purpose districts, all legislative creations — but largely, they’re out of the business of running counties.

Increasingly in recent decades, the main power wielded by the Legislature has been a negative power — the ability to block things from happening, rather than initiate sweeping changes. And that’s what the General Assembly is best at — blocking change, for good or ill. That’s why the passage of this Department of Administration bill is such a milestone.

Anyway, while he doesn’t say all that stuff I just said, in this clip, Sheheen shows that he understands that no one is actually in charge, and that someone needs to be, so that someone can be held accountable. Or at least, that’s the way I hear it.

You may wonder why I think it remarkable that a state senator would exhibit such understanding of the system. Well… that’s just rarer than you may think.

Remembering teachers for what they did to (I mean, for) you

Had to reTweet this item from The Onion today:

Unemployed, Miserable Man Still Remembers Teacher Who First Made Him Fall In Love With Writing

AUBURN, CA—Explaining that she introduced him to the literature that made him the man he is today, 41-year-old Casey Sheard, an unemployed and fundamentally miserable person, confirmed to reporters Tuesday that he still fondly remembers the high school teacher who first inspired him to fall in love with writing. “Mrs. Merriman was the one who put a copy of The Sound And The Fury in my hands when I was 16 years old, and it totally changed my life,” said Sheard, who has reportedly been unable to hold down any semblance of well-paid, full-time employment, constantly struggles to stay financially afloat, has thus far failed to make a living off of writing as a career, and has frequently spiraled into long periods of severe depression and unhappiness….

A couple of other word guys liked that. Mike Fitts just added, “Yep.”

So, how did Brigid Schulte find the time to write a BOOK?

Congrats to my long-ago colleague Brigid Schulte, who just received a starred review in Publishers Weekly for her new book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time:

51FQv8OfA7L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_On her quest to turn her “time confetti” into “time serenity,” journalist Schulte finds that, while it’s worse for women and hits working mothers the hardest, what she calls the “Overwhelm” cuts across gender, income, and nationality to contaminate time, shrink brains, impair productivity, and reduce happiness. Investigating the “great speed-up” of modern life, Schulte surveys the “time cages” of the American workplace, the “stalled gender revolution” in the home, and the documented necessity for play, and discovers that the “aimless whirl” of American life runs on a conspiracy of “invisible forces”: outdated notions of the Ideal Worker; the cult of motherhood; antiquated national family policies; and the “high status of busyness.” The result is our communal “time sickness.” Schulte takes a purely practical and secular approach to a question that philosophers and spiritual teachers have debated for centuries—how to find meaningful work, connection, and joy—but her research is thorough and her conclusions fascinating, her personal narrative is charmingly honest, and the stakes are high: the “good life” pays off in “sustainable living, healthy populations, happy families, good business, [and] sound economies.” While the final insights stretch thin, Schulte unearths the attitudes and “powerful cultural expectations” responsible for our hectic lives, documents European alternatives to the work/family balance, and handily summarizes her solutions in an appendix. Agent: Gail Ross, Ross Yoon Agency. (Mar.)

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Brigid Schulte

Brigid was the reporter I hired as Lee Bandy’s successor in The State‘s Washington Bureau. My memories of her sort of illustrate the theme of her book. First, there’s the way we met. I went to Washington in January 1993 — there was snow on the ground of the Mall around the booths set up for the first Clinton inauguration, which was to occur a few days later. I had set up interviews with a number of candidates, using an empty office in the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau as my base. But Brigid was out of town, and wasn’t getting back until almost exactly the moment my returning flight left.

So we met in the airport, as she was coming and I was going. I was sufficiently impressed to bring her down to Columbia for further interviews. We ended up hiring her. About a year later, she got drafted by the KR national staff, and not long after that moved on to The Washington Post.

Another quick anecdote: She was covering the round of BRAC hearings that led to the closing of Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. The climax of the process occurred on a Sunday afternoon. I happened to have the desk duty that day, and Brigid was having to wait for it all to happen, then write the story and somehow catch a train on which she was to depart with her then-new husband on vacation. This was before cellphones. She filed the story (on a Radio Shack TRS-80, I guess) at a time when it seemed physically impossible for her still to catch the train. Of course, I wasn’t going to let her go until I had the story.

Then there was the matter of calling in to answer my questions after I had read it. She did so, literally breathless and a bit dazed, from a phone on the train — which in those days was a technological marvel. “I’m on the train!” she shouted. “I’m on the phone, on the train! I’m calling you from the train! I made it!” That’s wonderful, I said. Now, here are my questions…

Of course, life has become even more hectic since that time. I mean, she didn’t even have kids back then.

So, I have to wonder: How did she find time to write a book? I always wonder that — I marvel that anyone finds time in a lifetime to do that — but I particularly wonder, given that she knows so well how insane modern life is. Well enough to write a book about it.

But she was always well-organized. She used to carry two notebooks — one for the live stories that day, another for enterprise stuff she was working on for later. I suppose that, while working on this book, she carried a third. Or the electronic equivalent of a third…

Vatican press officer’s persistent cough replaced by laughter

I liked this passage in James Carroll‘s piece in The New Yorker about Pope Francis, headlined, “WHO AM I TO JUDGE? A radical Pope’s first year:

Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., was appointed the director of the press office of the Holy See near the start of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, so he has been explaining Vatican policies for more than seven years. Early in his papacy, Benedict gave a speech that insulted Islam. He reinstated the Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson, brought back a Good Friday ritual that includes a denigrating reference to Jews, and issued a list of “more grave crimes” that seemed to equate the ordination of women with sexual abuse of children by priests. The Vatican was often having to clarify its positions.

Fr. Lombardi

Fr. Lombardi

I met Lombardi in a spartan room in a grand Mussolini-era building just outside St. Peter’s Square. Lombardi is a dark-eyed, silver-haired man of seventy-one, who looks as if he could be an Italian film director. I asked what his life had been like since Benedict stepped down. Lombardi broke into a broad smile. Then he said, “We experienced for years—and for good reason, also—that the Church said, ‘No! This is not the right way! This is against the commandments of God!’ The negative aspect of the announcement . . . this was in my personal experience one of the problems.” Father Lombardi and I are almost the same age. In his earnest good will and kindliness, he struck me as the priest I would have liked to become. He said, “The people thought I always had a negative message for them. I am very happy that, with Francis, the situation has changed.” He laughed. “Now I am at the service of a message . . . of love and mercy.” He laughed again.

A member of the press corps in Rome told me that during the Benedict years Father Lombardi, when addressing reporters, was bothered by a persistent nervous cough. The cough is no longer in evidence….

Overdramatizing to make celebrities seem interesting

Lewis as Lt. Dick Winters.

Lewis as Lt. Dick Winters.

I started reading this with some interest yesterday, at the recommendation of Michael McKean:

The United States, locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips dying empires, is a country entranced by illusions. It spends its emotional and intellectual energy on the trivial and the absurd. It is captivated by the hollow stagecraft of celebrity culture as the walls crumble. This celebrity culture giddily licenses a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness and betrayal. Day after day, one lurid saga after another, whether it is Michael Jackson, Britney Spears [or Miley Cyrus], enthralls the country …

Until I saw it was turning into an Occupy-style rant (which “locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips dying empires” should have hipped me to, but I had skimmed over it)…

…despite bank collapses, wars, mounting poverty or the criminality of its financial class.

In any case, I shared the concern over celebrity obsession. We really shouldn’t be fixated on celebs, unless they happen to be Christina Hendricks.

But you know, if a significant proportion of the few remaining journalists who are paid to do their thing must focus on celebrities, at least they should do so honestly and well. You don’t have to be writing about war or famine or the fates of nations to do a good job with it. Look at the great tradition of fine sports writing, from Ring Lardner through Sports Illustrated. And let’s not forget that Renaissance man George Plimpton.

Admittedly, there are grace and nobility in sport, while what actors and singers and people-who-are-famous-for-being-on-TV do can be relatively lacking in poetry. But if you must write about them, at least do so honestly, instead of making lame attempts to make them seem more interesting than they are.

I had been delving in triviality myself — looking for most popular Christmas songs — when I saw a link to some apparent controversy regarding something Damian Lewis had said. Being a fan of his work in “Band of Brothers” (and to some extent in “Homeland”), I clicked on it:

Sir Ian McKellen has a bone to pick with Damian Lewis…

Lewis recently commented that when he was in his 20s, he became concerned that if he didn’t break out of the theatre in time, he “would be one of these slightly over-the-top, fruity actors who would have an illustrious career on stage, but wouldn’t start getting any kind of film work until I was 50 and then start playing wizards.”…

Oh, gee — let’s see what sort of verbal artillery McKellen unleashed on Lewis:

The X-Men actor went on to describe Lewis’ statement as “a fair comment”, before adding: “To rebut it: I wouldn’t like to have been one of those actors who hit stardom quite early on and expected it to continue and was stuck doing scripts that I didn’t particularly like just to keep the income up.

“I’ve always wanted to get better as an actor. And I have got better. You’ve only got to see my early work to see that.

“As for a fruity voice? Well, it may be a voice that is trained like an opera singer’s voice: to fill a large space. It is unnatural. Actors have to be heard and their voice may therefore develop a sonorous quality that they can’t quite get rid of, so you think actors are as pompous as their voice is large. I suppose Damian was thinking of that a little bit, too.”…

So… McKellen was fairer, and more thoughtful, about what Lewis said (which, by the way, could as easily be applied to Richard Harris), than this story was.

Where was he “reeling”? Where did he pick a bone?

Sorry, folks — no slugfest here. Move along…

McKellen as Gandalf.

McKellen as Gandalf.

Beam me up NOW: Lt. Uhura gets the drop on Burl

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Burl Burlingame had a lot more foresight that I did. He took the trouble to document some of the more, um, interesting moments in his long newspaper career.

Here we have Lt. Uhura of “Star Trek” getting the drop on him with her phaser. What a great shot — so effectively and dramatically lit.

All I can say beyond that is, I hope that thing is set on “stun”…

You’re a good man, Jim Hesson. Hang in there…

Jim Hesson was possibly my best friend on senior staff at The State, except for Warren Bolton. He was the paper’s IT director. Actually, we called it “I.S.,” for “information services,” and Jim lived that. He was helpful, patient, competent, and had a great sense of humor.

Jim Hesson

Jim Hesson

I still remember with embarrassment the time we were all riding up to North Carolina in a van for a senior staff retreat. He and I talked and joked back and forth so constantly that the person sitting between us finally offered to move, so that we would stop talking across her. Which made me feel bad that we’d been so rude. But I always had a good time talking with Jim.

The purpose of that trip, by the way, wasn’t to talk business. It was to go whitewater rafting. Holly Rogers, the life-loving soul who was then our human resources director, had this idea that to work together effectively, people should sometimes have fun together (another year, she dragged us all out to Frankie’s Fun Park). I would grumble and complain and pass critical remarks about these outings, and fret about the work waiting for me, but once there, I would throw myself into it and have as much fun as anybody. Those were different times.

Back to Jim Hesson. Today, Jim posted this on Facebook:

Yesterday morning I was having my quiet time on the train heading in to work. I was praying that God would give me clarity about my job and if it was time to seek another position. After I got in I was called in to a meeting where I was told my position was eliminated , along with a number of others in our IT dept. So God did answer my prayer, just not in the way I expected. God is good. And I know He can be trusted in all things.

I am so sorry, Jim. But I believe your faith is well-placed. You got an answer; it’s just not going to be an easy one to accept. May you soon see clearly the next steps on the path before. That’s the hard part — wondering whether that next opportunity will ever come. The good news is that you’ve got the right attitude about it.

I am deeply impressed by Jim’s honesty in sharing this. I wasn’t like that. Oh, I shared a lot — far, far more than most people who are laid off do. Thousands upon thousands of words, in my last columns and on the blog. On the first day I didn’t have a job to go to, I stood up in front of the Columbia Rotary Club and cracked jokes about it. And I didn’t lie about anything.

But it was superficial, stiff-upper-lip stuff. It was never gut-level. Not that I meant to mislead; I was just so busy figuring out the next step of each day that I didn’t plumb the depths of what I felt. In truth, of course, I wasn’t feeling on a deep level. I wouldn’t fully realize at the time how much I was losing. The grief of losing the job that paid me well to do what I do best is something that has unfolded itself gradually over a period of years. At the time, the bad feelings were offset by relief that I would no longer be the one laying off, and then having to figure out how to do the job going forward, without those good people. I quickly got over the rush of anger that I felt in the moment I got the news. I refused to dwell, even in my own mind, on how it felt to tell my wife and family.

And I certainly didn’t share private communications between me and the Almighty. In any case, they would have seemed rather incoherent and repetitive, not elegant and direct like what Jim shared.

It occurred to me to keep a journal, maybe write a book, about what it was like to have reached the pinnacle of what you wanted to do for a living, and then have it all taken away in an instant, just as you’re stepping into your peak earning years. And about what happens next. It would have relevance, in that year of 2009. (And today as well. How many people out there have never regained what they had? The unemployment figures don’t tell you that.) But I thought, what a bummer that would be — I certainly wouldn’t want to read such a book, much less write one.

Now, if I wanted to go back and write something like that, I’d have trouble assembling the details. I’ve just forgotten so much of it.

In any case, what could I write that would be as powerful as what Jim did?

You’re a good man, Jim Hesson. I know God will bless you going forward…

Cool picture from Sebelius hearing today

This was Tweeted out by a photogapher with the NYT this morning. I was impressed.

But since the NYT might be inclined to be possessive about the rights, I’m not going to put the image in this post. I’m just going to give you the link so you can go see it.

Pretty good shot, huh? I’ll bet those photogs in the photo — all of whom got the standard, run-of-the-mill shots — are kicking themselves now, assuming they saw this.

Gathering to say goodbye to Lee Bandy

Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford, at reception following Lee Bandy's funeral.

Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford, at reception following Lee Bandy’s funeral.

Above are some of the better-known people who showed up at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia yesterday to pay their respects to the inimitable Lee Bandy.

There were other politicos, such as Sen. John Courson and former Attorney General Henry McMaster. But far more numerous were present and former colleagues of Lee’s from The State.

With the emphasis being on “former.”

Lindsey Graham wondered whether there were more alumni of the paper in the receiving line — which wound all the way around the fellowship hall — than the present total newsroom employment, and I looked around and said yes, almost certainly.

The former certainly outnumbered the present at the lunch that some of us went to at the Thirsty Fellow after the funeral and reception. That group is pictured below. Of those at the table, only three currently work at The State. The rest are at The Post and Courier in Charleston, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and various other places. Some are free-lancing. Some of us, of course, aren’t in the game at the moment.

That night was when we gave Lee a proper newspaper send-off. There were about 50 of us at Megan Sexton and Sammy Fretwell’s house. At one point in the evening, we crowded into a ragged circle in the biggest room in the house to share Bandy stories. The first couple of speakers were fairly choked up. Then Aaron Sheinin of the AJC cheered us up by saying, “What would we all say if he walked in that door right now?” And immediately, we all raised our glasses and shouted, “Bandy!”

So we went around the room, and after each testimonial — some poignant, some humorous, some both — we hoisted our glasses and cried out his name again. Just the way we did during his lifetime, in a tone infused with delight. That was the way everyone greeted him, from presidents to senators to political professionals to his fellow scribes. Everyone was glad to see him.

And everyone was deeply sorry to see him go.

There was in the room a rosy glow of remembrance of what we had all meant to each other once, and a joy at regaining that comradeship, if only for an evening. But none of the rest of us will have a sendoff like Bandy’s, nor will any of us deserve it as much…

Thirsty

John McCain didn’t like the heat in Lee Bandy’s kitchen

On a previous post, I quoted Aaron Sheinin telling a story about how, after “Brad and Cindi and Mike and Warren finished their wonk nerd questions” in editorial board interviews, Lee Bandy would weigh in with something that made the guest politico squirm.

Today, fellow alumnus Bill Castronuovo reminded me, over on Facebook, of video I shot of Lee making John McCain very uncomfortable in our boardroom in August 2007.

You don’t see Lee (hey, I had enough trouble keeping a camera trained on the candidate while taking notes and presiding over the meeting; two cameras were impossible), but that’s his voice you hear asking the question that brings out McCain’s dark side. Since the mike is facing away from Lee, you might have trouble hearing the question. I can’t make out parts of it myself, what with McCain talking over Lee before he could get it all out. But here’s the audible part:

What went wrong with your campaign? You were sailing along… you had a wide lead over everybody else… now you have to fight for your political life.

As you see, the senator did not like the question a bit.

To set the stage: McCain was considered practically down and out in this stage of the campaign for the GOP nomination. A few months before, he had been the unquestioned front-runner. But things seemed to have fallen apart for him. A few weeks earlier, I had posted this report (also with video), headlined “McCain goes to the mattresses.” In the video, McCain staffer B.J. Boling (one of his few remaining at this low point) said they were going from a huge production to “an insurgency-type campaign.”

In the end, it worked. McCain managed to win in SC, and go on to win the nomination. But at this point in the campaign, the candidate was in no mood to take questions about how badly he was doing from that pesky Lee Bandy…

We’ve lost Lee Bandy, the dean of SC political journalists

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The word went out Thursday afternoon that our old and dear friend Lee Bandy was on life support in intensive care at Palmetto Health Baptist. His family was gathering.

Within an hour or two, his other family — the one that had had the privilege of working with him during his long career as South Carolina’s pre-eminent political writer — had started gathering in a message thread on Facebook.

By the time the inevitable word came this afternoon that Lee had passed away, that exchange of memories had turned into a virtual wake among 248 people who treasured his acquaintance. It included current and former alumni of The State, veterans of the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, family members, and many others he had touched along the way.

For those of you who didn’t know him, let me try briefly to explain…

Leland Bandy first went to Washington during the Kennedy administration. Early in his career, he did some radio reporting — he had the voice for it — but he was primarily known for his 40 years with The State, most of it as the newspaper’s Washington correspondent.

After Knight Ridder bought The State in the late 80s, Lee officially became part of the KR Washington Bureau, but he never gave up his prestigious desk in the Senate gallery. He was a rare asset for the bureau, and not just because he was one of the only two or three people in the bureau who got tickets to the Gridiron show (he was a regular performer in the shows, as well as a loyal member of his church choir). Lee Bandy had access to people that no one else had. I remember in particular the way editors in the bureau hung on every word he had to share, after he and I had been over to Lee Atwater’s office at the RNC on one of my trips to Washington.

When Atwater was dying, Lee was the only journalist he or his family would have anything to do with. It was a pattern we’d see repeated when Carroll Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and when when Strom Thurmond died.

Everybody, including the politicos who despised all other journalists, loved and trusted Lee Bandy. Why? For the simplest of reasons. He was a good man. He treated everyone not only with fairness, but with kindness and generosity. It was quite a potent formula. More journalists should try it.

As his editor for a brief portion of his career — 1987-1991 — I have my own Lee Bandy stories to tell. But I was deeply impressed by some of those told in the outpouring of love on Facebook.

Here’s a sampling…

From Aaron Gould Sheinin, formerly of The State, now with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (and here’s something Aaron wrote about Lee for The State):

I’ll go then. During the 2004 presidential campaign John Kerry came for an Ed board meeting. After Brad and Cindi and Mike and Warren finished their wonk nerd questions there was a pause. And Bandy pipes up, “So, John did you get Botox?” Kerry, his face devoid of emotion, says, “No, Lee, I didn’t.”…

Same year. Lee and I are at Crawford Cooks house to meet Bill Richardson, then governor of New Mexico who is thinking of running for president. Just the four of us. Richardson gives his opening spiel. Bandy clears his throat and says “So, I hear you got a bimbo problem.” Richardson, his face impassive, says “No, Lee, I don’t.”

Neither became president….

Oh man. So Bandy is at the Gridiron in 2001. Bush’s first year. Lee Makes his way up to the head table. Bush sees him and says Bandy! Like everyone does. Bush says I want your speaker of the house to be my ambassador to Chile.

bandy says ok. And comes back and tells the editors

He calls David Wilkins the speaker who denies all knowledge. We decide that since the gridiron is supposed to be off the record that Lee needs to call the White House press office

Lee calls and tells them what he’s writing. They get all indignant. No way. Who’s your source?

Bandy: Your boss.

The press aide: Ari Fleishcer?

Bandy: No the president.

Press aide: oh.

Long story: Wilkins turned down the job an later took the canada job.

Angelia Herrin, who represented the Wichita Eagle (which was where I first worked with her, before I knew Lee) in the KR bureau:

We are so sad, reading this and yet, George turned to me and said, can’t you hear just lee bandy laugh? And we both laughed and cried a little. Because my god, Lee Bandy could make you laugh when you were just in the middle of the worst stupid day in Washington. Because really– that’s just the right reaction on the worst stupid day on Capitol Hill.

Jeff Miller, formerly of The State and now with an advocacy group in Washington:

I cut my teeth covering politics during the 1988 GOP presidential primary, the first to come right before Super Tuesday, and Poppy Bush needed to win. I was so far out of my comfort zone that crazy month. In hindsight, I needn’t have worried. I had… Bandy, who knew everything and everybody, to coach me through it. Greatest professional experience of my life. Bless you Lee. A legion of young, impressionable reporters owe you so much.

Megan Sexton, formerly of The State, now working at USC:

My favorite: Bandy interviewing Strom Thurmond Bandy: “Strom, have you tried that Viagra yet?” Strom: “Bandy, I don’t need it.”

Wayne Washington, formerly of The State, now of the AJC:

Lee, who was a reporting giant when I was in elementary school, was the first person to call me and tell me how much he was looking forward to working with me when I was hired by The State. I was speechless. Great sense of humor. Great generosity. Class.

Kay Packett, a sometime commenter on this blog, who explains in her stories how she knew Lee:

I am heartbroken. I met Lee when I was a brand-new press secretary in Washington and I avoided him assiduously because my previous boss — Mont Morton at the SC Department of Education for you old-timers — had told me Lee would have me for lunch. Then he called one day at the end of a very bad day and suggested a Bloody Mary, and I have loved him every minute since. He taught me everything I know about working with a real reporter, and he made me learn it the hard way! But we had a lot of fun along the way. My thoughts are with his family and I am so sad for all is us who loved him….

That truly was Lee’s gift — doing his job well and fairly and keeping his friends at the same time. I remember once when Carroll Campbell had instructed me to yell at Lee over an unflattering column, and I called to tell him I had to yell at him, and he said, “Good. Meet me at Yolanda’s.” So we had a couple of scotches and laughed. I wonder what questions he’s asking Campbell now.

There is a hole in my heart. Thanks, everyone, for sharing your memories.

Doug Pardue, formerly of The State, now with the Charleston Post and Courier:

A true journalist’s journalist, hard-hitting, and a truly nice guy. I remember when one young reporter from The State went to Washington and got in a cab. The driver asked him where he was from and he replied South Carolina. The cabbie then asked him, “Do you know Lee Bandy?”

Valerie Bauerlein Jackson, who used to sit next to Lee in The State‘s newsroom and went on to work for The Wall Street Journal:

I could not guess how many stories Bandy wrote about Carroll Campbell and Strom Thurmond–hundreds, maybe, and many, many of them critical. I think Bandy was the first to question whether Thurmond was still fit to hold office, and he certainly broke the story that Strom was living at Walter Reed. But when the Campbells were ready to let the world know that the governor had early-onset Alzheimer’s, they called Bandy. And when Strom died, the Thurmonds called Bandy….

… he also said, “In many of our newsrooms today, we have too many people living a life of journalism for journalism. There’s nothing else. Well, I would like to suggest there is something else. That there is something more to life than being a journalist. And that is being a human being.”

Bandy was one of the best human beings I’ve ever known.

Michelle Davis, formerly of The State:

He was the only person from The State to ever come visit me in the far-flung Camden bureau when I was 23 years old. He treated me to lunch at The Paddock and actually took me seriously when I said I wanted to go to Washington someday like he did. And then he helped me get there.

Danny Flanders, formerly of The State:

I’ve been reading this all day, and it didn’t hit me until tonight when I first truly encountered Lee. As a new night editor at The State in 1990ish, one of my Friday night duties was helping with weekend copy. (Unless, of course, someone set fire to Rockaways) On my first Friday night on the job, I was told to “keep an eye out” for Lee’s Sunday column when it came in. Oh, God, no. I would be charged (in my early 30s) with editing Bandy, whom I read for years? So when he called me to tell me he’d filed (Remember all of that?) he introduced himself and we chatted for an hour about life, not the business, before he said, “Change anything you like, Danny.” I thought, Was he buttering me up to protect his copy, was he calling from a phone booth at happy hour, or is this guy really that nice? Yikes!. So I made a few nips and tucks, then held my breath as I called him to read it back to him, and he thanked me profusely for, he said, making him “look better”. Whew!…

thanks for the vote of confidence, Lee. Godspeed.

Brigid Schulte, whom I hired to “replace” Lee when he moved from Washington to the Columbia office in the early 90s. She is now with The Washington Post:

Lee Bandy. You can’t say the name without a smile. And perhaps a bit of a chuckle, remembering something he said, or did, hearing his own frequent chuckle after saying something a tad irreverent but always spot on. I had the great, wondrous and intimidating privilege to follow Lee Bandy as the State’s reporter in Washington after his long, illustrious stint when he’d decided it was time to go home. Bandy ferried me around the Capitol, expertly ducking in and out of offices, secret passageways, waving to just about everybody along the way. He was gracious, generous, supportive, hilarious, kind and just great fun to be with. He even snuck me into a Grid Iron rehearsal after we’d had a long, breezy, gossipy lunch that stretched into the late afternoon. We both giggled at the thought of Strom Thurmond referring to me as “that nice little girl from the State Newspaper.” My heart goes out to his family. I wish him not just peace, but dearly hope he’s sitting somewhere with his feet up, celestial newspaper open, a tinkling glass by his side, regaling fellow angels with irreverent, and spot on commentary on the doings in the world below. He was a peach of a man. He’ll, no doubt, make one hell of an angel.

Joseph Scott Stroud, formerly of The State, now political editor with The Tennessean:

Thanks to all for the sustaining thoughts through all this. Lee’s life showed us, and has reminded me this weekend, that you can be a constructive critic and observer of public life and still have a generous heart. Mary, I hope you and the family are blessed with a sense of why Lee is so loved by the rest of us — because of his good, kind heart and buoyant spirit. He won’t be replaced, but we all carry him with us in our hearts

And finally, one more from Valerie Bauerlein:

I love you, Lee Bandy.

She is far from alone in that.

Finally, a perfect job fit for me!

Back during my long period of unemployment, I signed up for a number of Internet services to help me in the job hunt. I still get emails from them.

Today, I got one that claimed, “An employer or recruiter on TheLadders just posted a job that matched with your profile.”

Exciting news, eh?

What was the job? Vice President of Logistics for Belk. An excerpt from the description:

This position is responsible for planning and coordinating domestic transportation and retail DC operations and includes operational and fiscal responsibility for these activities.  He / She will take a strategic leadership approach and will be accountable for creating plans to develop and integrate the capabilities of the organization in line with the current Supply Chain Mission.  The VP of Logistics ensures that internal and external customers receive the highest level of service, makes decisions that maximize the operation’s performance and cost metrics, and builds strong associate work teams with a positive work environment…

Yeah… that’s me all over.

This would be mildly amusing except for something else I know… algorithms that are no more sophisticated than the one that saw this as right up my alley are making decisions about who will get interviewed for jobs and who will not. I don’t know how many jobs I got rejected for before a single human being had looked at my application, but I assure you it would be a depressing number.